NEW YORK (AP) — A power outage crippled the tourist-filled heart of Manhattan just as Saturday night Broadway shows were set to go on, sending theater-goers spilling into the streets, knocking out Times Square’s towering electronic screens and bringing subway lines to a near halt.
The New York City Fire Department said a transformer fire at West 64th Street and West End Avenue affected hundreds of thousands of customers along a 30-block stretch from Times Square to about 72nd Street and Broadway.
The fire occurred just before 7 p.m. Saturday, authorities said.
Con Edison officials later said they were working to restore electricity to customers and businesses primarily on Manhattan’s Upper West Side by midnight.
The temperature was warm, above 80 even as the sun set, but not as steaming as Manhattan can get in July.
Power reportedly went out early Saturday evening at much of Rockefeller Center and reached the Upper West Side.
At Rockefeller Center, traffic lights were out. Some buildings in Rockefeller Plaza had lights on, others were dark.
The outage comes on the anniversary of the 1977 New York City outage that left most of the city without power.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that although no injuries have been reported “the fact that it happened at all is unacceptable,” and the Department of Public Service will investigate the hourslong outage.
Many Broadway musicals and plays canceled their Saturday evening shows, including “Hadestown,” which last month won the Tony Award for best musical. Several cast members from the show put on an impromptu performance in the street outside the theater for disappointed audience members.
Emily Totero, 30, planned to bring out-of-town guests to see “Moulin Rouge.” But once they got to the theater district, they saw the power go out.
“You could see all the theater lights across the street, all the marquees went out. That’s what we noticed first,” she said.
Some shows like “Frozen” were among the Broadway shows to announce it had canceled performances.
The outage made its way to Madison Square Garden where Jennifer Lopez was performing Saturday night. Attendees said the concert went dark about 9:30 p.m. in the middle of Lopez’s fourth song of the night. The arena was later evacuated. And at Penn Station, officials were using backup generators to keep their lights on.
When the lights went out early Saturday evening, thousands of people streamed out of darkened Manhattan buildings, crowding Broadway next to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
People in Hell’s Kitchen began directing traffic themselves as stoplights and walking signs went dark.
Ginger Tidwell, a dance teacher and Upper West Side resident, was about to order at the West Side diner on Broadway and West 69th Street just before 7 p.m.
“When the lights started flickering, and then were out,” she said. “We got up and left, walking up Broadway with all the traffic lights out and businesses dark.”
But once they got to West 72nd Street, they found another diner that was open and had power.
“It was still sunny and everyone just came out to the street because they lost power and air conditioning; it was super-crowded,” she said. “Everyone was hanging out on the street on a nice night. All you could hear was firetrucks up and down Broadway. All of Broadway was without traffic lights.”
Karen Janowsky, a vendor selling ponchos at a street fair on Sixth Avenue in Rockefeller Center got caught in the blackout just as she was wrapping up for the day and taking some of the goods to her car parked in a garage two blocks away on West 49th Street. That kept her from driving her car to get the tables, chairs and racks — all stolen before she could rush back to get them
“I was alone and I couldn’t get to everything, so they stole my stuff,” she said, adding that she had no idea who the people who took her things may have been. “It was chaos, with fire engines and people packing the streets. When the lights went out, I was one minute from getting my car in the garage.”
She lost about $400 worth of setup equipment for her goods.
“I’ve been stranded for the last three hours,” Janowsky. “I have another fair tomorrow, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”